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Teesta: The way Home




Teesta is home to the communities living in Sikkim, Darjeeling, Kalimpong, and the downstream plains of Jalpaiguri from where it flows into Bangladesh where it merges with the Brahmaputra.


The communities living around the Teesta share an intimate relationship with the river based on co-existence and familiarity. This transboundary river has been a subject to numerous studies, disputes and political discourses. The local narratives are not necessarily taken into account on all levels of studies and decision making processes.


The Teesta river basin is home to 30 million people from the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal- a river that has a deep cultural, spiritual and economic relationship to the people that co-live with the river. The dynamics of the river and people are however rapidly changing. This is brought in by both climatic and anthropogenic changes. What would become of the people of Teesta with the rise in 1.5 degree Celsius. Heatwaves in the plains would have larger livelihood and disaster repercussions in the hills and plains that are dependent on the river to all of 30 million in number.


Teesta, all 414 kms in length, originates from the Khangtse Glacier situated at Pauhunri in the Eastern Himalayas. Recent studies have found that glaciers in Sikkim are melting more rapidly as compared to other Himalayan regions. This melting has been more prominent since after 2000. This has been due to the rise in summer temperature. The glacially fed river Teesta not only faces the problem of climate change but also infrastructural interventions through the length of the river as found in hydropower dams, road infrastructure and stressful urbanization.


The race of the river runs parallel to the race of development all in the backdrop of rising temperature. What we must start to privilege in this dichotomous discourse is the voices of the people that safeguard and live with the river.


Teesta is of sacred importance to the indigenous Lepchas wherein the cycle of the river from the source of the glacial lakes to all the stages of the flow are likened to the lifecycle of the Lepchas people. The local and cultural knowledge of the community addresses the modern issues and solutions of climatic , anthropogenic and human changes. In Sikkim, the Lepchas have been working actively for the conservation of the river as the belief system and culture of the community is directly linked to the rights of the river.


As the river flows from upstream Sikkim into the mid-hills of West Bengal entering into Darjeeling and Kalimpong , the point becomes sacred to all communities living in the region. Teesta at the border of Sikkim and Kalimpong is an important cremation ground for diverse groups and is seen as the last rite towards salvation.


The Gorkha communities living in the mid hills of the Teesta have a deep cultural and religious bond with the river and have several settlements that derive their livelihood, songs and recreation from the river.


Further down in downstream Teesta as it enters the floodplains of Jalpaiguri, the river is as important economically as it is culturally to the communities living there. The agricultural and fishing communities have been living in harmony with seasonal floods. With changes in the unpredictability of the climate and the flow of the river due to building of dams- the communities live through extended periods of droughts and floods. The river that gives livelihood to the people has also become a source of magnified disaster and displacement.


Teesta means many different things to the people and communities. And when the river Teesta is brought up to the population living along the river, it evokes an immediate sense of home and belonging. The river cuts through boundaries, borders and even dams meandering into diverse cultures and belief systems- all of which in their diversity are bound by a shared belonging to the river.


On International Day of Action for Rivers, we must remember that there are millions of people of Teesta that work each day everyday for the conservation of the river and take daily action to safeguard the rights of the river. In all that the people of Teesta do, we must constantly build solidarity in conserving the river we call home.


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Though born and brought up in Siliguri, whenever I visited Sevoke, or upwards towards other hill stations, River Teesta always made me emotional by it's depth, colors and immense attire to speak of it's sufferings....


It's a great initiative that somebody has raised the voiced again Digitally!

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